Colorado’s Open Container Law

Colorado’s open container laws prohibit knowing consumption or possession of an open container of alcohol or marijuana in a vehicle.

By: Rebecca Pirius, Attorney

In Colorado, it’s unlawful to knowingly consume or possess an open container of alcohol or marijuana in a vehicle that’s on a public road or right-of-way. While the open container laws for alcohol and marijuana are very similar, a significant distinction exists—a conviction for possessing an open container of marijuana requires evidence of marijuana consumption. The same is not true for alcohol.

This article provides an overview of the open container laws’ prohibitions, exceptions, and differences.

Open Alcohol Container

The open alcohol container law prohibits both drivers and passengers from knowingly consuming alcohol or knowingly possessing an open container of an “alcoholic beverage” in a motor vehicle.

Alcoholic beverage. Alcoholic beverages include:

  • distilled spirits (such as whiskey, rum, or brandy)
  • wine (not less than one-half of 1% of alcohol by volume), and
  • beer and other fermented beverages (such as sake).

Motor vehicle. The open container law applies to all motor vehicles designed primarily for travel on public roads, regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion. So, drinking in a vehicle parked on a public street violates the statute.

Open container. For purpose of the statute, a container is considered “open” if:

  • it has been actually opened or has a broken seal, or
  • its contents have been partially removed (even if resealed).

Passenger area. Any person in the “passenger area” of the vehicle is prohibited from knowingly consuming or possessing an open container of alcohol. The passenger area is defined as seating areas and any area readily accessible from these areas, including the glove compartment. It doesn’t include the trunk or the area behind the last seat for vehicles not equipped with a trunk.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 42-1-102, 42-4-1305, 42-4-1305.5 (2017).)

Open Marijuana Container

For the most part, the definitions and prohibitions found in the open alcohol container law also apply to open marijuana containers. One exception is with the definition of “open container.” A violation for possession of an open marijuana container occurs only if:

  • the marijuana container is open or has a broken seal
  • the container’s contents are partially removed, and
  • evidence exists that marijuana was consumed in the vehicle.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. § 42-4-13055.5 (2017).)

Exempted Vehicles

Certain passenger vehicles for hire—such as taxis and limousines—and motor homes are exempted from the open container laws. Passengers in these vehicles, other than the driver and front seat passenger, may consume and possess alcohol or marijuana.

Penalties

Infraction. Violations of the open container laws are class A traffic infractions. Both offenses result in a $50 fine and a surcharge ($16 for open alcohol container; $7.80 for open marijuana container). More serious criminal penalties apply if the driver was under the influence.

Underage offenders. An underage offender—person under age 21—who violates either law is guilty of an unclassified petty offense. A petty offense is a criminal matter. A first offense is punishable by a maximum $100 fine and $25 surcharge. A court can also order the offender to complete a substance abuse education program.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-13-122, 42-4-1701 (2017).)

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